Saturday, May 26, 2012

People on foot do not pollute: revisiting an old new concept

My column in the May 27, 2012 issue of Cordillera Today 

These days, bring up the idea of pedestrianization and your get violent reactions from various sectors – mostly revolving around revenues that could be lost or unfairly gained by others. The closed, or at least narrow-minded business people along Session Road oppose they believe it would result in significant revenue cuts for them. Other concerned citizens, particularly those who are protesting SM’s expansion plan believe that closing Session Road to vehicular traffic would direct people more to the monstrosity up the hill, and that traffic jams that the Central Business District’s closure might even help justify the mall’s plan to build a parking lot at the expense of 182 trees.

First, let us be reminded that pedestrianization doesn’t necessarily mean the complete closure of the road to motorists. There are so many things we can do to make Session Road more pedestrian-friendly without totally banning cars from passing the road. Our leaders must realize that roads are not only for wheeled contraptions – they are also there to accommodate people on foot.

In the last months, Baguio saw millions and millions being spent for road repairs all over the city for the benefit of motorists. While there nothing wrong with this, except of course when the repairs are done not to improve roads that are in good condition but to feed the pockets of corrupt politicians and contractors, but we hardly see any effort coming from our public works officials to improve the conditions of our sidewalks for the benefit of the walking public. In fact, in Baguio, the government policies when it comes to public roads seem to always benefit those who already have more in life.

Take the closure of the two major pedestrian lanes along Session Road – for whose benefit was this done? The motorists – private motorists mainly as jeeps are banned from using Session Road. This was done to the disadvantage of pedestrians who now have to walk the extra hundreds of meters to get to the other side of the road. The whole bottom part of the road, from Mabini down to People’s Park, is now without a pedestrian lane. The huge crowds that gather at the Mabini intersection to cross the road have made it a convenient excuse for the adventurous to jaywalk, while criminal elements such as pickpockets and snatchers have been given the perfect situation to perpetuate their crimes.

Meanwhile, hardly anything’s done to clear the sidewalks of obstructions, further endangering the public who are at times forced to walk on the road.

And if we do completely ban motor vehicles along Session Road, I don’t really believe that this will result in significant loses for the businesses located there. Turning the road into a beautiful, wide landscaped promenade would encourage people to linger in the area, and it’s people who patronize their businesses, not cars.

And a beautiful, healthful Session Road, if turned into some kind of a public park would make it a top tourist and local community attraction, so I don’t think it will drive people to the mall on Luneta Hill. On the contrary, it might even drive them out of it as this would make Session Road a community of home-grown businesses (with a sprinkling of a few franchises) that would complement each other’s operation instead of what it is now – individual establishments competing against, let’s face it - the convenience that a mall offers.

I’m sure there are even more brilliant ideas out there on how to go about re-inventing Session Road, and we hope that our the businesses along the famed thoroughfare would at least be open-minded about it and explore the possibility before immediately closing the doors on something that could be beneficial not just to them, but to the whole Baguio community.

Session Road is choking to death, it's time to let her breathe - and people on foot do not pollute, unlike carbon spewing cars. Unless they litter (as one netizen commented when I posted the thought on Facebook)... but that's for another column.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Stop the killings

Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto wants the funding for the country’s tourism ads in CNN pulled out because of a feature the news network aired that portrayed the practice of “pagpag,” or scavenged left-over chicken that are washed, re-cooked and resold. His argument sounded too familiar: since the country poured in a good amount of precious dollars for the airing of “it’s more fun in the Philippines” campaign, CNN should have returned the favor by featuring only flattering stories about the country.

Sotto doesn’t even realize it, but his position on the issue has put to the fore the corruption that prevails even in what a lot of us still consider as the last frontier in the country’s struggle to finally start walking the “daang matuwid” talk of PNoy. He must have forgotten that media has the responsibility to tell stories worth telling, and to tell it the way it is, advertising clients notwithstanding.

I’d like to see how the Philippine media would treat this issue, for I can’t help but be reminded of how not a few of them kept the protest movement to save the 182 trees on Luneta Hill out of prime time and the front pages for some time and the most logical reason for the apparent news blackout was SM’s advertising money. Which begs the question, is it justified when a media outlet kills a story to protect its bottomline?

This is very dangerous, for the message that Sotto is sending to the people is this - public trust be damned, as long as the money keeps rolling in. All the Sys, the Sm’s, Cojuancos, the Luisitas, the Coronas, and yes, even the Ampatuans need to do is pour some money in the form of advertising contracts into the industry to keep their personas untarnished in the public eye. In the meantime, we, the people, will be kept in the dark, or at best shown only a part of a whole picture, and we end up with an uninformed citizenry.

Democracy? Nah. That’s a conjugal dictatorship of the elite and the supposed Fourth Estate.


While on the subject of murder, the recent Luneta Hill related features in several national papers, particularly in the country’s acknowledged leading broadsheet, seem to be an attempt to shift the focus away from the real issue, which is plain as day: is the killing of 182 trees for the benefit of a single corporate entity that’s already enjoying a lion’s share of the consumer market justified? There was Ramon Tulfo, who cast a doubt on Bishop Carlito Cenzon’s intentions, by postulating that the bishop’s opposition to SM’s expansion plan is all about money for the local diocese owns a mall just a stone’s throw away from SM. What’s this, they’ve given up debating the issue on its merits and have resorted to character assassination. Then there’s Conrado Banal, who headlined his column thus: “Store Wars: Attack of the Clowns,” effectively dismissing the whole protest movement as nothing but an orchestrated attack perpetrated by SM’s business competitors.

As far as I know, Michael Bengwayan, the initiator of the protest movement; nor Attorneys Cheryl Daytec and Chris Donaal, lead counsels of the protesters; nor local artists Bubut Olarte, Bumbo Villanueva and Ethan Andrew Ventura; nor the youthful Richard Dean Basa and Karminn Yangot do not own a mall, nor any other business ventures that’s in direct competition with SM.

I know for sure that I don’t. Pray tell, Mr. Banal, how do I explain to my own children, who have had to sacrifice a lot because of lost opportunities in our collective struggle (yes, they are actually complainants in the case filed against SM, DENR and DPWH) to save those 182 trees that you have called them, and all the rest of us who are protesting against SM City Baguio's expansion plan as clowns with malicious intentions?  My children, who can sit in front of you and defend their principled stand, and tell you about what’s wrong about killing those precious trees for more money, and educate you about the importance of respecting and protecting the environment, how wrong it is to be greedy, and how we, as human beings, must live our life in harmony with our natural environment and not against it.

While you, who have no real knowledge of the culture, history and heritage of this city and these mountain people you so viciously dismissed as clowns; you, who have never experienced having your home buried in mud and garbage in a landslide; you, who do not live your life with the pine trees, the mountains and rolling hills, the healthful climate, the cool, invigorating air of Baguio, have the audacity to judge the citizens of this city, as few as a lot of your kind claim we are, who found it in their hearts to go against a very powerful corporate monster to defend their environment, heritage, history... dignity... their life? You have no idea.

Preventing relevant stories to be told. Character assassinations. The death of a free press not by censorship but by corruption. The mass murder of 182 trees.

Stop the killings!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Every breath you take

As the vendor was putting the bundles of pechay and watercress I bought in plastic bags at the market a few days ago, I told her: “Manang, huwag niyo na pong i-plastic.” Then seeing the bayong I was carrying, she quipped, “ay ayaw niyo ng plastic. Siguro taga Irisan kayo, ‘no?”

And there lies the reason why most of us remain apathetic to environmental issues and concerns – until something affects us directly, personally, that's the only time we start caring.

The vendor was of course referring to the efforts of the residents of Irisan to minimize, if not totally stop the use of disposable plastic bags. This was an offshoot of the trash-slide last year that claimed lives and property when garbage came rushing down the hill at the height of a particularly heavy downpour. Visiting the site of the Irisan tragedy soon after, I can’t help but notice that plastics made up a major part of the debris that buried people and homes.

On my way home, I made quick, basic mental calculations. I bought a kilo of fish, a kilo of beef and a kilo of chicken. What they usually do at the market is to put your meat purchase in a clear plastic bag, then put that bag again in what they call a “plastic sando bag.” By refusing the sando bags, I was able to keep three plastic bags out of our trash bin. I bought a bundle each of pechay and watercress. That’s two plastic bags. A bunch of pandan - one plastic bag. Fruits – one plastic bag.

Not much, one might say. Eight plastic bags. But imagine this: there were thousands of at the market that afternoon. If only one thousand did the same, we could’ve prevented the use of eight thousand plastic bags. Add to that another thousand each durig the morning and lunch rush hours and in one day, that would have been 24,000 plastic bags.

That’s 720,000 plastic bags a month, and 8.64 million plastic bags in one year. That’s just at the city market. And that’s a very conservative estimate.

In one year, a thousand people out of the almost half a million living here in Baguio today could’ve kept 8.64 million plastic bags out of the Irisan dumpsite.

The Irisan tragedy occured because of a combination of several factors, and among these are a corrupt political system and apathy. It was the former that prevented Baguio City from complying with the RA 9003, or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2001. And it is that non-compliance that brought us to this crisis. And when the City Government, belatedly, tried to address the problem, people’s apathy reared its ugly head. Not everybody heeded the call, the plea, to reduce, reuse, recycle and segregate whatever garbage is left for the City Government to collect.

Why? Because most of us still believe that our individual actions cannot possibly affect the whole community, the whole city, the whole country – the world. What’s one household that didn’t segregate their trash out of hundreds in the neighborhood? Some of us might think. What’s one smoke-belching car out of the hundreds along Session Road? What’s a couple of plastic bags out of the tens, if not hundreds of thousands used in the city everyday?

And as SM City Baguio’s apologists would like to us to think, what’s 182 trees out of the hundreds of thousands we have in the city?

We can wait for something like the Irisan tragedy to happen before acting, or we can do our share in preventing something like it from happening in the first place. That is what the protest movement against SM City Baguio’s expansion plan is basically about.

We are all part of a bigger community. Every breath we take changes the composition of the whole universe.

To the vendor at the market, I can only reply with, “Hindi po ako taga-Irisan, pero taga-Baguio pa rin po.”

*my column in the May 6, 2012 issue of Cordillera Today